The Significance of the Book of Hebrews and The Implications for Futurism – #4

In the first installment on Hebrews 13:15, We have seen that the author of Hebrews has drawn a sharp contrast between continuing to follow Torah and the Temple cultus, and the new priesthood, tabernacle and altar of Christ. He has by placing “him” in the emphatic position in 13:15 emphasized that it is now through Jesus, and not the Levitical priesthood that acceptable sacrifices are to be made. Be sure to read part #2  and part #3 as well.

He has already issued a revolutionary paranesis (exhortation) by urging his readers to leave the city of Jerusalem: “Let us go out to him, without the gate” (cf. Revelation 18:4– “Come out of her my people!”). He had said, boldly, that those who served in the Old Temple, had no right to serve in the True Tabernacle, over which Christ now serves as High Priest.

In these radical “calls to action” the author of Hebrews has given us insight into his view of prophetic fulfillment, his hermeneutic if you please, and his changing views of the Old Covenant world.  Be sure to read Tony Denton’s excellent book From Flawed to Flawless, for a great demonstration of how Hebrews contrasts the Old Covenant with the glory of Christ.

Hebrews 13:15 bears powerful testimony to the prophetic hermeneutic of the writer. His comments  provide insight into the very nature of the kingdom, the holy city Zion of prophecy, and the Messianic Temple. Needless to say, by extrapolation, his view of these things had to have had a profound impact on his view of the Land as well. Notice what he has done:
1.) He has rejected the Levitical priesthood.

2.) He has “spiritualized” the temple and its cultus (Hebrews 9:23f). Of course, he has called the readers’ attention to the fact that the Old Cultus was, from the very beginning, merely a foreshadowing of spiritual realities (Hebrews 10:1-2– notice the present active indicative when he speaks of Torah being, when he wrote, a shadow of “good things about to come.”
Thus, he has not engaged in inappropriate “allegorization” , but rather, revealed that it was God’s original intent for the physical realities to be seen as mere shadows of the higher, better and spiritual things of Messiah. This is extremely important.

3.) He has spiritualized the Temple and the altar itself, showing that the true temple and altar are not earthly material realities, nor are they nationalistically oriented.

4.) He has spiritualized the City, calling on his readers to abandon and leave the earthly city. He has revealed to them that they have come to “Mt. Zion” which in Messianic prophecy was to be the “capital” of the kingdom of God (Isaiah 2). Yet, again, he has emphasized that this Zion is heavenly and spiritual, not earthly, for again, he called on them to abandon the earthly city.

5.) Now, in the verse under consideration, the author spiritualizes the acceptable sacrifices to be offered on the radically new, different, spiritual altar: “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise unto God, that is, the fruit of our lips.”

It is important to see, as Mosser noted, that under Torah and the Old Temple system, the animal sacrifices of the “thank offering” was itself called a “sacrifice of praise” (Carl Mosser, in an evocative and compelling article, “Rahab Outside the Gate.”

It cannot be overemphasized how the author has “spiritualized” the Old Testament praxis and realities. And yet, this is critical, he is clearly discussing the things foretold by the Old Covenant prophets when the promised the “restoration” of Israel and the kingdom.

The nature of the restoration of Israel, which of course, included the motifs of Temple, priesthood, sacrifice, Land and city, anticipated by the prophets is an important issue. The millennialists say there must be a national restoration. Walvoord, commenting on what he calls the spiritualizing hermeneutic of Amillennialism and Postmillennialism, says, “A literal prophecy spiritualized is exegetical fraud.” (John Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan)200).  Because Israel had a literal land, city, temple, priesthood, sacrifice, cultus, etc., and since the Old Testament foretold the restoration of Israel, then those physical realities must have been the focus of God’s promises.

Pentecost claimed, “During this present age, then, while the King is absent, the theocratic kingdom is in abeyance in the sense of actual establishment on earth. Yet it remains as the determinative purpose of God” (Dwight Pentecost,  Things to Come, Grand Rapids, Zondervan,1980, 471).

This view completely overlooks the typological reality, and purpose, of each of these elements, as the author of Hebrews has discussed them. See my Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory, for an extended discussion of the typological nature of Old Covenant Israel.

While Israel was given physical realities, as King noted in response to Walvoord, “A spiritual promise literalized is exegetical fraud!” (His emphasis) Further, and here is the point, “God’s promise in Christ is a spiritual promise from the day it was made to Abraham. How then can that which is spiritual be spiritualized?” (Max R. King, “The Promise: O.T. Shadow versus NT Body, In the Land versus In Christ” Living Presence Journal, Warren, Ohio, Vol. 3, No. 2 (September, 1992). King wrote an entire series on the shadow versus reality between Old Covenant Israel and fulfillment in Christ).

LaRondell offered other insight into how the NT writers interpreted the Old Testament prophecies. He shows how many times the Psalms (specifically Psalms 69 and 118) are quoted in the NT with a formulaic “That it might be fulfilled” even though some of the Psalms were never considered Messianic. He then says: “Thus, the NT teaches the typological interpretation of Israel’s psalms and prayers. This surprising pattern of typology in the book of Psalms which came to light only through Jesus Christ and the NT, justifies the classification of such psalms as indirect messianic prophecies. The hermeneutical principle that underlies their christological application seems to be that Christ must repeat the experience of Israel in a much fuller sense in order to fulfill God’s purpose for Israel and the whole world.” (Hans K. LaRondell, “The Israel of God in Prophecy, Principles of Biblical Interpretation,” Andrews University Monographs, Studies in Religion, Vol. XIII, (Andrews University Press, Berrien Springs, MI, 1983)70-73).

He continues on p. 75– “Bible scholars begin to accept the theological term sensus plenior, or “fuller meaning,” in order to acknowledge that Israel’s Old Testament history has a deeper meaning than a purely historical-grammatical exegesis can bring to light. …The “fuller” meaning of Scripture stands, by definition, for God’s intended meaning in Scripture, which may or may not have been discerned by the human author, but which is made clear by the subsequent revelation of the Holy Spirit. As one scholar clarifies, ‘In either event, the author does not intentionally convey the plenior sensus to his hearers. But at a later date, in the light of further revelation, the fuller meaning becomes clear to readers under the influence of the Spirit who inspired the original author.”

This is very clearly what is taking place in Hebrews. It is obvious that the Old Testament prophets did not know, or conceive of the nature of what they were predicting (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). But, the NT writers, through the Holy Spirit, were revealing what those OT prophets truly, actually were prophesying.

(Take note of Daniel 12, where Daniel said he did not understand what he was predicting, but that the meaning of his prophecy would be revealed in the last times. When we come to the NT, several of the writers cite Daniel 12 directly and speak of the imminent fulfillment, cf. Matthew 24:15f. See also Revelation 10:6-7; 11:15ff).

Hays commented on 1 Corinthians 10:11 where, lamentably, many translations render it: “They were ensamples (or examples for us) unto us, upon whom the end of the ages has come.” Hays notes that this translation completely misses the point: “The events narrated in Scripture ‘happened as tupoi emon’ (10:6). The phrase does not mean–despite many translations–‘warnings for us.’ It means ‘types of us,’ prefigurations of the ekklesia. For Paul, Scripture, rightly read, prefigures the formation of the eschatological community of the church” (Richard Hays, Conversion of the Imagination, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2005)11. Hays is saying that the Paul was actually saying that the events of Israel’s history were, from the very beginning, typological. Paul was not allegorizing or “spiritualizing” Israel’s history, or praxis. He was saying that in the mind of God, those things were intended to be typological, prophetic of greater realities.

Davidson concurred when commenting on 1 Corinthians 10:11: “Paul is not saying that the events can now (in his day, DKP) be seen to be tupikos– as if they had became tupoi as a result of some later occurrence or factor. Rather, Paul insists that in their very happening, they were happening tupikos. The tupoi-quality of the events was inherent in their occurrence, not invented by the Pentatuechal historiographer or artificially given a ‘typical’ significance by Paul the exegete. The divine intent of the events clearly includes the tupos-nature of the event” (Richard Davidson, Typology in Scripture, (Berrien Springs, MI., Andrews University Seminary Doctoral Thesis Series, Vol. II, 1981)268).

The book of Hebrews is not, therefore, inappropriately “allegorizing” OT prophecies. Through the Spirit, he was revealing the true meaning of Israel’s entire existence! (What Hebrews- and the other NT writers– is doing is based on what was known as the Rez Pesher principle. This principle acknowledged that the OT prophets did not know the time or nature of their own prophecies, but, that the truth of those prophecies was now, through the Spirit, being revealed).

He has emphatically informed us that the Old Temple was not God’s “determinative purpose” (9:23f). And if that were true of the Temple, it was true of Israel herself, for in a very real sense, the Temple was Israel.

Thus, when he affirmed that there was now a greater priesthood, altar, sacrifice, Temple, City (and by implication Land), he was showing that what Israel’s own prophecies, and even the events in her history, truly foretold were the things of Christ. To be sure this was, as we have noted, shocking, revolutionary, even considered traitorous and treasonous. What Hebrews was saying, how the author was defining and re-defining Israel’s hope, was totally, radically different from the expectation of the day.

Wright took note of this in Jesus’ parabolic teaching, specifically the parable of the Prodigal Son which he sees as a depiction of the restoration of Israel: “Israel would return, humbled and redeemed: sins would be forgiven, the covenant renewed, the Temple rebuilt, the dead raised. What her god had done for her in the exodus–he would at last do again-and more gloriously. The story of the prodigal son says, quite simply: this hope is now being fulfilled–but it does not look like what was expected. …But this is a highly subversive retelling. The real return from exile, including the real resurrection from the dead, is taking place, in an extremely paradoxical fashion, in Jesus’ own ministry” (NT Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, (Minneapolis, Fortress, 1996)126f).

So, the NT writers “retold” the story of Israel, and re-defined Israel herself. Hebrews made a spiritual application of both the events that occurred, and the cultic praxis. They affirmed that the Old Law was not the substance, but the shadow. The claimed that Israel, her law, her land, her temple and altar, her city, her priesthood, were about to pass away, giving way to the reality to which those things pointed.

Dispensationalists are at direct odds with this view. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, takes note of Kenneth Gentry’s appeal to the dictum, “The Christian exegete must allow the New Testament to interpret the Old Testament.”  Fruchtenbaum’s comments are found in a three page article sent to me by Thomas Ice. The article is entitled,  “How the New Testament Uses the Old Testament.”

Fruchtenbaum claims that this approach is only valid if the NT is viewed, “in such a way as not to change the meaning of the original Old Testament passage through reinterpretation in the New Testament (i.e. the church replaces Israel in O. T. passages.”

In other words, if any NT writer seems to indicate that the original intent of the OT passage was spiritual, then this is a “reinterpretation” that must be rejected. This approach means that Israel could never have been representative of something else. Her temple, priesthood, city, land and cultus could not have been a shadow of better things to come– as directly affirmed by the NT writers! By all means, the OT literalistic interpretation must be maintained! Fruchtenbaum and the dispensationalists are patently at odds with the NT interpretation of the Old Testament.

By claiming that it was now, through Christ, that acceptable sacrifices of praise are to be offered, and by redefining the very nature of the sacrifices (priesthood, Temple and City) Hebrews shows definitively and irrefutably that Old Covenant Israel was not, in fact, the determinative purpose and goal of God.

I think Walker is spot on in his assessment: “In the light of his Christian faith the author of Hebrews saw the Land, the Temple and Jerusalem in new ways. Each of these three realia was a picture given by God in advance of some deeper, heavenly reality. The Land pointed towards eschatological ‘rest’ (4:9), the Temple illustrated the ‘greater and perfect tent in heaven (9:11), and the earthly city of Jerusalem prepared the way for the ‘heavenly Jerusalem (12:22)” (Walker, Holy City, 1996, 222).   More to come.